Astros

Houston Astros Offseason Checklist

Reflecting back on the 2018 season for the Houston Astros, I still feel some disbelief in the way the season ended. Following the news of Lance McCullers out for the 2019 season, following Tommy John surgery, along with Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Carlos Correa on the mend. Key free agent decisions are looming. What should the Astros offseason checklist be?

Resign Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, and Martin Maldonado

Despite the struggles Dallas Keuchel had this season, the Houston Astros have extended a one year $17.9 million qualifying offer which Keuchel rejected today. After the news regarding McCullers and the current outlook of Houston's pitching staff being so right-handed dominant, keeping Dallas whether on a short 2 to 3-year deal or a long-term deal depending on how long Keuchel wants to pitch; retaining him is a must. Keuchel in the past has shown the ability to rebound following a down season, he struggled in 2016 going 9-12 with a 4.55 ERA but rebounded nicely in 2017 going 14-5 with a 2.90 ERA via ESPN.

Keuchel brings much more than just his pitching. He is also the best defensive pitcher in the game, winning four gold gloves. It is understandable that Keuchel rejected Houston's qualifying offer. He appears to want more than just one more season, good pitching can be hard to find, and as long as the price is right, the Astros should not hesitate to resign Dallas.

Much like Keuchel, Gonzalez grew with the organization through the rebuilding years, to help hoist the franchise's first world championship. Honestly, every team needs a Gonzalez, he can play every position and do it comfortably, and though he does not put up huge numbers at the plate, Marwin brings a switch-hitting bat capable of getting on base as well as hit for some power. For everything Marwin has brought the Astros, Houston would be wise not to let Gonzalez walk without a fight.

Retaining Maldonado would be pretty interesting, but a move the Astros should make. Despite being linked to possibly trading for Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, Houston currently has no catcher outside Max Stassi on the roster. Maldonado does not bring a consistent bat, though he showed he could build a great rapport with pitchers and handle a pitching staff. Despite having a disastrous performance behind the plate in the ALCS, Maldonado is more well known for being great behind the plate. Should the Astros strike out trading for Realmuto, bringing back, Maldonado would give Houston continuity at that position, as well as they will not have to scramble for anyone.

Contact Cleveland and Seattle about possible trades

Buster Olney of ESPN tweeted the Cleveland Indians, are open to listening to trade offers for Corey Kluber, and Carlos Carrasco, via ESPN. MLB.com Executive reporter also tweeted the Seattle Mariners, have made everyone available for trades, via Feinstein. Regardless of whether Houston can bring back their free agents, or not, the Astros should at least kick the tires with both teams. The big question with Seattle is, would they consider trading inside the division? Houston would also have to be careful trading with the Mariners because the last thing Houston wants is to help a division foe improve.

Cleveland even entertaining the thought of selling is a bit head-scratching. While they weren't as good as Boston, Houston, and New York right now, the Indians are a team a trade and a possible big free agent signing, boom they are back in the mix.

Bolster the bullpen

Collin McHugh figures to slot back into Lance McCullers’ spot in the rotation, which leaves an opening in the bullpen. Relievers Tony Sipp and Will Harris are both free agents, and both may not return which would leave three spots in the pen open. Josh James who was electric in 2018 figures to get at least one of those spots, if he is not in the rotation next year.

Final Take

2018 ended before the Astros wanted it to, and the roster figures to look a little different next year. Health did play a part in Houston falling short, so regardless of how this team looks on paper going into next season, health will be the biggest key to a return trip to the fall classic in 2019.

Astros: On to the Next One

“Kimbrel deals, in the air, deep left field, hit well, Benintendi on the run, he’s got it! The Boston Red Sox are moving on to the 2018 World Series!” BOOM! The Houston Astros season came to an early end, and they were not able to repeat as World Series Champions! A quiet Minute Maid Park crowd in complete shock and in despair to see their Astros lose on their home turf, to the Boston Red Sox. Carlos Correa is looking from the dugout, disgusted, while his teammates hit the locker room. Looking at the Red Sox jump up and down, celebrating on the mound, knowing they beat the defending champs, and are moving on to the World Series. Now, what’s next for the Houston Astros?

Well, injuries during the postseason were killing the Astros, such as a one-legged Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa dealing with an aching back, and Lance McCullers Jr. bothered by his pitching arm. Now, we see Jose Altuve having surgery on his bad right knee, repairing a patella fracture, however, he will be ready for Spring Training in 2019. Just after the last game of the season, rumors were going around saying Lance McCullers might need Tommy John surgery to repair a UCL ligament in his elbow. Carlos has told us throughout the whole postseason, saying “I know every time I swing and miss it’s going to hurt.” He’s been dealing with a bad back since the All-Star Break. With an unhealthy Astros roster, it was hard for the ‘Stros to repeat as World Series champs, however, they never gave up and kept playing every game.

The season is over, and have players becoming free agents. Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, Charlie Morton, Brian McCann, Evan Gattis, and Tony Sipp. Keuchel and Gonzalez spent seven years in the Astros organization from going back-to-back 100 loss seasons, to becoming World Series Champions in 2017. I believe these guys will test free agency and see if they will get a well-qualifying offer. I respect any decision they make and very thankful for their time as a Houston Astro. Charlie Morton has had thoughts on considering retiring from baseball to spend time with his family, but a part of him still wants to play this game. He would like to stay in Houston if he decides not to retire. Brian McCann is an All-Star catcher, but he’s missed almost half the season with an injury and has dealt with some injuries in the past years with Houston. I don’t see the Astros resigning Evan Gattis back since Tyler White has shown the organization that he can replace his role, by having a strong second half of the season.

The Houston Astros have two starting pitchers in Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Now, we’re looking for three more starters to fill in the 5-man starting rotation. During the 2018 season, the Astros brought up prospects: Josh James and Framber Valdez, who did not disappoint this year. Collin McHugh was a former starting pitcher in the 2015 season, who was 2nd in Wins in the AL with 19, and behind Keuchel with 20 wins. He could be a strong candidate to get back on the starting rotation.

The Astros have a lot of great pitching prospects, such as Forrest Whitley, J.B. Bukauskas, and Corbin Martin, but we could maybe see Whitley come up in the 2019 season. Although, we need one more power, hard-throwing starting, and relief pitcher. It could be very interesting if Clayton Kershaw opts out of his 2-year remaining contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and become a free agent. If this happens, Coshark has the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros as co-favorites to sign him. Why the Rangers you may ask? Well, Kershaw is from Texas for one, the other point is he’s from Dallas, which is close to Arlington where the Rangers play. Since he’s a Texas native, he would like to play in his home state and be closer back home with his family. Nathan Eovaldi would also be a good acquisition for the Astros. With his hard-throwing fastball and nasty slider, the Alvin native could help the Astros by being a powerful 3rd starter in the rotation. Think about it Verlander, Cole, Eovaldi… that’s a scary hard-throwing rotation going into the postseason. Relief pitchers, we need a big-time lefty reliever! Zach Britton would probably be the Astros top target since Tony Sipp is gone, the Astros would need to get a left-handed pitcher for the lefty on lefty matchup in the bullpen.

We all know Max Stassi helped us this 2018 season with Brian McCann being hurt half the season, but he’s not worthy of being a starting catcher. Free agent players like Yasmani Grandal or Wilson Ramos would be great acquisitions because they are excellent defenders behind the plate and could provide a big bat in that deadly lineup they have right now. On the other hand, the Astros could trade for J.T. Realmuto. However, Derek Jeter is not easy to negotiate with. He wants our top prospects, like Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley, but that won’t happen with Jeff Luhnow in office. Some trade bait could be Corbin Martin, Josh James, Yordan Alvarez, or even Derek Fisher. Don’t be surprised though if we give away good top prospects for J.T.

Nelson Cruz is a big name on that free agent list. Even though the veteran is 40 years old, he’s missing one thing: A World Series Ring! He had multiple chances with the Texas Rangers in 2011 and 2012, when they faced the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants in the World Series, but came up short. Coming into his 14th year in the big leagues, I believe he would be looking for a championship contending team. Houston is in need of a big stick in that 4-6 hole in the lineup, with Minute Maid Park being 315 ft. in left field and 326 ft. in right field, the “Boomstick” could make a big boom at Minute Maid Park.

Can Kyle Tucker come back in 2019 and show the Astros he has potential to become their next superstar? Before the 2018 Spring Training Season, all eyes weren’t on Bregman, Springer, or Altuve; it was on the #1 top prospect in the Houston Astros Farm System: Kyle Tucker! The 21-year-old showed much talent coming into the 2018 Spring Training. Everyone on the team called him “Ted,” because they compared him to the great Ted Williams. The whole Astros organization has big expectations for Kyle Tucker, that he would become the missing piece in that deep, high flying outfield.

When he made his MLB debut against the Chicago White Sox, he had gone 1-4 with a single and three strikeouts. That was just the start for Kyle. Ending the season with 64 at-bats, he batted with a whopping .141 batting average, nine hits, and 4 Runs Batted In. Not a great start, but he’s a rookie and got his feet wet in the Big Leagues. When the season ended, the Astros held a press conference with Jeff Luhnow and AJ Hinch.

There was a question about Kyle Tucker progress, and Luhnow stated “We’re going to give him a shot, but we're just not going to hand it to him. We’re hoping he takes it.” It’s understandable though that Tucker didn’t look great in 2018, but he would look to bounce back in 2019 with a chance to be on the Houston Astros 2019 Regular Season Roster.

The 2018 Houston Astros is one of the best teams in Franchise History. They had the best starting rotation and bullpen in the MLB. They have the most wins in franchise history and won back-to-back AL West Division Champs. So now what? Well, let’s strap up for the 2019 season, and move on to the next one!

Top 5 Houston Astros Prospects

The next wave of Astros prospects are around the corner.

The offseason is here, and it’s time to start looking ahead. With the Astros inevitably making moves and all the free agents this year, we have to assume this team will love slightly different next season. However, it’s also time to look at some of the weapons the Astros have in their minor league programs.

Forrest Fire

It’s no secret the Astros have the top pitching prospect in all of baseball, Forrest Whitley. Teams have had their eye on him for a while now for potential trades, but Jeff Lunhow as said he’s not for sale multiple times. So, you have to wonder if this year is the year we get to see Whitley bring his talents to the juice box. Especially with the caliber of a rotation that Houston has, not to mention the bullpen. It’s going to be very interesting to see how and when Forrest gets added to this five-man tandem.

Tuck and Roll

Kyle Tucker is another highly sought-after prospect that the Astros have in their back pocket. Now he actually made his MLB Debut in the 2018 season, and some would say he had a somewhat disappointing season. It was clear Tucker wasn’t ready for the intensity of “The Show,” and he was sent back down the minors where he flourished. One had to hope that Tucker will make his return in the 2019 season and hopefully with better results.

1st Base Potential

Yordan Alvarez is a slugging first baseman, who recently earned a promotion to triple-A. While he’s spent some time in the outfield, his lack of mobility should keep him to a 1B/DH role in the Majors. He’s hit for both power and average in the minors, but he’ll likely see his batting average dip when he enters the major league level. Regardless, there are high hopes for a player his caliber.

Beer Time

Seth Beer is an early draft pick for the Astros this year. He has put up some impressive numbers early on in his career, but he’s also been beating up on mostly younger competition. There is enormous potential for him, especially after his college performance but a lot has remained to be seen. All eyes will be on this top prospect in the coming season.

Redemption shot

Cionel Perez is another top prospect who made his MLB debut last season. Again, he wasn’t bad, but it’s clear he needed grooming. With more work with Brent Strom, I’m certain he’ll be a threat in the bullpen. He has a feel for pitching and does an impressive job of commanding his four-pitch mix. His fastball can reach mid 90’s which is always good to see, but he’ll need to switch it up to get those K’s where he wants them.

In conclusion, the Astros have some potential stars in their minor league programs, and it will be very interesting to see how they come into play this season. Will the unstoppable pitching of Whitley bring this pitching rotation to another level? Will Tucker redeem himself in the bigs in 2019? Only time will tell, but everyone will be watching in anticipation for this championship quality team to do very wonderful things and hopefully make another run at the title.

Source: Fangraphs.com

Astros still have an A.J. Reed decision to make

Winston Churchill once described Russia as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” So, is the conundrum of Astros first baseman AJ Reed, the power-hitting former second round pick by the organization in 2013. 

While much of the current collection of Astros MiLB followers (correctly) heap praise on the Kyle Tucker’s, Yordan Alvarez’s, and Seth Beer’s in the system, they simultaneously seem to have moved on from one of the most productive hitters in all of the minor leagues over the last few years. 

Consider these statistics and MiLB accomplishments from the big Kentuckian:

  • Career .288 hitter in the minors with 123 homers and 443 RBI to go along with a .926 OPS. 
  • The only two time winner of the Bauman Award, given to the player that leads all of the minor leagues in home runs (2015, 2017). 
  • Was the 2015 MiLB.com Offensive Player of the Year after leading all of the minors in RBI (127), total bases (320), and all full-season players in slugging percentage (.612) and OPS (1.044). He also scored 113 runs, hit 34 homers, drew 86 walks, hit 30 doubles, and batted .340 across two levels. 
  • Named the 2018 MVP for the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies after hitting 28 homers and leading Triple-A with 108 RBI. 
  • In 523 games and 1,971 at-bats, Reed has a career slugging percentage of .547 to go along with a career OBP of .378. 

So, what to do with the 6’4”, 230lb, power hitter? In a normal world, a player with his combination of power and hitting ability, and the credentials to back it up, would be considered an important part of an organization’s future. So, why is AJ Reed the Russia of the Astros organization? Let’s take a closer look. 

THE RIDDLE

Reed, for all of his minor league accomplishments, has had little success at the big league level. In 131 career at-bats with the Astros, Reed has an abysmal slash line of .153/.255/.244, with a staggering 50 strikeouts. In his defense, consistent playing time and opportunities have been lacking. 

There is, of course, the eye test, and with visual evidence we can surmise that Reed’s bat looks slow, he’s unable to handle big-league fastballs, and is lost when down in the count and resorting to guessing what is being thrown at him. 

So, what do you call a power hitting left-handed bat with little to no idea at the plate? 

THE MYSTERY 

Let’s be fair here. As mentioned above, Reed hasn’t been given the consistent playing needed for any young hitter to adapt to the superior MLB stuff that pitchers at this level possess. So, there remains a mystery as to what Reed actually may or may not be able to accomplish should he get, say, 300-400 at-bats in Houston. 

Clearly, the MiLB track record is there. Reed’s natural raw power allows for the lefty to maintain a consistent swing path and allows him to concentrate on just barreling up the baseball and to let his strength do the rest. And, despite the alarming strike out rate, he does have a good idea of the zone and will draw his share of walks. To boot, Reed has improved defensively and the once college pitcher has an excellent arm for the first base position. 

Power hitters typically have the biggest adjustments to make as they jump to the big leagues. The aforementioned Chris Davis—-before becoming the worst hitter in recent memory—-needed the at-bats at the big league level before blossoming into one of the most feared hitters in baseball. The question for Reed, as well as the Astros front office, is can he be afforded the time to develop on a team that is in championship mode with little room to allow a project to develop? And, lastly, do we need to cut ties too soon on potentially a left handed version of JD Martinez?

THE ENIGMA

And here we are, left with the decision of just what to do with the big guy. Reed is on the Astros 40-man roster, which means, barring an outright release, he will be able to continue his journey with the Astros organization. But where, exactly, would Reed best be able to stake his claim  to the active 25-man roster? 

Tyler White, JD Davis, and the incumbent Yuli Gurriel, all appear to have the favor of the Astros organization over Reed. Not to mention, Alvarez and Beer seemingly poised to supplant Reed as an option as well. Also, with news that the Astros are serious players for Nelson Cruz to fill the DH spot, Reed is left with “hoping” for injuries or trades in order to leapfrog himself into consideration as a legitimate big leaguer. 

Let’s look at Reed, as the enigma in the system and what Luhnow and company must be thinking in regards to the slugger. 

Could Reed be part of a package in a trade scenario? Probably not, unfortunately. While Reed has the MiLB track record, other teams also realize that Reed has serious question marks and that the Astros have little leverage in offering Reed as a prospect in a trade. 

Could Reed be a legitimate option for the Astros to fill the DH spot in 2019? Maybe. But, again, he would need many things to fall into place for that to happen. Certainly he could be called up in a pinch, but the reality remains that if the club really had confidence in him, he would have been up several times in 2018. 

Could Reed one day haunt Luhnow in the same way JD Martinez does today? A resounding affirmative to this one. Reed’s raw power is hard to come by, and with a minor league history of being able to hit for power and average, Reed has the untapped potential to carry that success to the highest level. It just may come in a different uniform and given an extended look by a rebuilding team. 

Simply put, I’m not sure anyone following Reed’s career path can say what he is, who he is, or what he will be. We just don’t know what we don’t know in regards to Reed. 

Meanwhile, in 2019, he’ll likely spend the majority of his time in Round Rock, hit around .275, hit close to 30 home runs, drive in over 100 runs, and have nowhere to advance to. 

Sources: MiLB.com; thebaseballcube.com

Astros Rumors: Trade talk with the Mariners about a James Paxton trade?

The Houston Astros have three openings in the starting rotation following Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton hitting free agency and Lance McCullers having Tommy John surgery. While they haven’t ruled out bringing Keuchel or Morton back, they could get better deals elsewhere. Something that we have seen in the Jeff Luhnow era is that they don’t like offering pitchers multi-year deals. They could have extended Keuchel after the 2015 season, but instead, they are letting him test the free agent market.

After reaching a franchise record 103 wins in 2018, the Astros realized how important it is to have a strong rotation. This could lead to them looking at free agent starting pitchers, but they could also explore the trade market. With a strong farm system, we have seen Luhnow fulfill his promise to use prospects to improve the MLB roster. He added Justin Verlander in 2017 and Gerrit Cole in 2018; both are in the final year of their current deals.

The Astros should begin to shift their focus to extending Verlander and Cole, but they need a backup plan. With the previous trades, the Astros appear to be comfortable with trading for a starter with two years of control remaining. Robbie Ray could be a target, but another name has surfaced from an unlikely source. This starter has pitched well in his career versus the Astros and are a division foe.

No, not Cole Hamels, he was traded to the Cubs last year. It seems that whenever James Paxton pitches versus the Astros, he is on the top of his game. According to Baseball-Reference, in 12 starts versus the Astros, Paxton has a 7-2 record with a 2.89 ERA while striking out 69 hitters in 71 2/3 innings. He also fits the mold of a Verlander and Cole as a workhorse starter who got 208 strikeouts last year.

Astros reportedly had a trade shot down for Bryce Harper

A few minutes ago, my jaw just dropped to the floor. On my phone was a notification that said the Astros had a blockbuster deal in place at the non-waiver trade deadline. It was a Tweet from Ken Rosenthal, who suggested that the Astros had a deal for a stud outfielder from the Washington Nationals. But similar to what happened in 2017 with the Orioles, the trade was nixed by ownership.

By now you have seen the Tweet that said the Astros had a deal in place to acquire Bryce Harper, but the Nationals' ownership group canceled the deal. That could have been the deal that could have given the Astros the extra hitting to possibly beat the Red Sox in the ALCS. On Talking Stros, we talked about how the Astros were trying to make a blockbuster deal. Now we know...

This was an instance of the Nationals thinking about their pocketbooks and not what was best for the team. They knew that if they traded Harper, people would have stopped coming to games with the move signaling a rebuild. Rosenthal hinted (subscription required) that they also feared that trading him would have made it less likely that he would re-sign. However, the writing was on the wall that he was going to leave.

Astros – The Off-Season Strategy Session - Part 3

Rule 5 draft and the roster- Who will be on the 40-man roster?

Now that we have established who is likely to be leaving the next step will be to assess who will be on the 40-man roster and does the roster address the holes left behind by the players that leave? As we do this we need to consider the Rule 5 draft.

The details of the Rule 5 Draft are available from the Queen of Astros Minor Leagues – Jayne Hansen here

https://whattheheckbobby.blogspot.com/2018/09/2018-rule-5-draft-primer-and-eligible.html

An Rule 5 eligible player is...

1) Anyone who signed prior to the conclusion of the 2014 season.

2) Any player who was 19-years-old at the time of signing after the end of the 2014 season or prior to the conclusion of the 2015 season.

3) Most 2015 drafted college players.

4) Any high school players drafted in 2015 will wait one more year.

What this means is certain minor leaguers whose name you know can be drafted away from the Astros if they are not added to the 40-man roster. The number of players the Astros will want to add from the 2014-2015 drafts partially explains their willingness to let the free agents previously discussed to walk.

On 11/2/18, the Astros signed Chris Herrmann in a classic quiet Jeff Luhnow increase your options and low risk- high potential reward type of move. His name shows in green in the table above. This move will set up other potential bigger moves at catcher will discuss in later sections.

The following table shows what I believe will be the Rule 5 draft roster IF no Ramon Laureano type trades are made between now and 11/20/18 (the day Rule 5 rosters are set).

The players in red font are currently NOT on the 40-man roster and the number is the prospect ranking in the Astros system. This brings the roster to 38 which leaves limited room for Free Agent signings.

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Also, the top prospects such as Whitley, Alvarez, Martin, Beer, and Bukauskas are not on the projected 40-man roster. It is highly possible at least one if not more of these players will be added to the roster in 2019. Before we move forward, it is critical to understand there are only one or two roster spots even available to add a free agent this offseason.

MLB Free Agents

Earlier we said Catcher, First Base, Left Field, and possibly one Starting Pitcher are the biggest needs this offseason.

Catcher- Currently the Astros have three internal options (with 2018 stats per Fangraphs and 2019 projections)

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None of these options inspires confidence. Starting Catcher is a HUGE hole for the 2019 Astros. Any of these CAN be a backup for this team. What are the viable options for a starter?

Best Available via trade

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The Astros fan base has clamored for Realmuto for a year now. He is salaried controlled for two more seasons. The Marlins have multiple needs. Using the same ranking system we did to evaluate the Astros roster earlier (10 is the top 3 teams at the position, and 1 is the bottom 3 at the position), this is how the Marlins rank and the potential tradeable assets from the Astros who could be offered.

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To simplify the analysis here, the Steamer600 projection from Frangraphs.com projects a player into a full-time starter role and projects their full-season value. The Astros are highly unlikely to offer Tucker nor Whitley. However, you can see how many players the Astros MIGHT consider tradeable would be and upgrade for the Marlins in 2019; and as they develop, their projected WAR would also rise. What if the Astros offered Stubbs (1.4), Reed (-0.1), Alvarez (1.7), Bukauskas (1.2), and McCurry (0.2) for Realmuto (3.7)? Should the Astros give up that much for two guaranteed years of Realmuto?

Best Free Agent Options

There are likely three options for a free agent Catcher. Shown here are their stats in 2018, their Fangraphs Depth Chart projections for 2019. Also shown here are several sources projecting what their contracts will be and an average of these projections.

Finally, a “Value Assessment” is done. This is asking how much is each WAR likely going to cost the Astros. Obviously, the smaller the number; the better the value for the Astros.

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This would indicate Grandal and Ramos are the best investments. I believe the Astros will sign one of these two rather quickly or they will get a more cost-effective contract with Maldonado (2 yr/$8MM total.) I believe the Astros will sign a catcher vs. trading for Realmuto.

As for the other positions of need, First Base and Left Field, I do not believe the Astros will sign a top Free Agent, at least not until February.

Next time, we will address what some of the options are at Starting Pitching now with McCullers out all 2019.

Check out the other parts of the series below.

Astros – The Off-Season Strategy Session - Part 1

Astros – The Off-Season Strategy Session - Part 2

***Stats from Baseball-Reference, Sportrac, and Fangraphs***

Astros – The Off-Season Strategy Session - Part 2

Contract decisions - who are the free agents leaving, option opt-ins/ outs, arbitration, and qualifying offers

In some ways, this article could come before the 2019 roster projection one. In either case, at the end of the 2018 season, the Astros front office will have free agents leaving with qualifying offers to offer, contract options to decide, and arbitration decisions to make.

The following players (with 2018 salaries) are now Free Agents, and some will receive a qualifying offer ($17.9MM for one year) to stay for one more year:

- Dallas Keuchel ($13.2MM)

- Charlie Morton ($7MM)

- Marwin Gonzalez ($5.12MM)

- Evan Gattis ($6.7MM)- not offered

- Tony Sipp ($6MM)- not offered

- Martin Maldonado ($3.9MM)- not offered. Potential to resign as a Free Agent

The total 2018 salary of these players was $41.92MM. This will come off the books.

Per MLB.com regarding qualifying offers

If the team that loses the player did not receive revenue sharing and did not exceed the luxury-tax salary threshold the previous season, its compensatory pick will come after Competitive Balance Round B (usually about the 75-80 picks). The value of the player's contract doesn't matter in this case. The 12 clubs that fall into this category are the Angels, Astros, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Mets, Phillies, Rangers, White Sox, and Yankees.

This would mean the Astros are likely to add one additional draft pick in the 75-80 pick range.

The Astros front office also has to decide whether to exercise options on the following contacts (these are complete):

- Brian McCann ($11.5MM net)- $15MM vesting option did not vest and the team did not pick up the option. He is now also a Free Agent. There was no way the Astros would retain McCann at the $15MM contract price. Many believe McCann may want to return to the Atlanta Braves where he began.

- Will Harris ($2.8MM)- $5.5MM team option not exercised but still eligible to be offered arbitration and retained.

McCann’s $11.5MM of 2018 salaries will come off the books. We will hold Harris’s contract for the arbitration section.

The following players are eligible for Arbitration and their projected arbitration amounts per rosterresource.com (2018 salary)

- Gerrit Cole- $13.1MM ($6.75MM)- offered and potential to negotiate a long-term contract

- Roberto Osuna- $6.5MM ($5.3MM)- offered and potential to negotiate a long-term contract

- Colin McHugh- $5.4MM ($5.0MM)- offered

- Carlos Correa- $5.1MM ($1.0MM)- offered and potential to negotiate a long-term contract

- Lance McCullers- $4.6MM ($2.45MM)- offered

- Will Harris- $3.6MM ($2.8MM)- might not be offered due to roster space

- Ryan Pressly- $3.1MM ($1.6MM)- offered and potential to negotiate a long-term contract

- Brad Peacock- $2.9MM ($2.44MM)- offered

- Jake Marisnick- $2.4MM ($1.9MM)- probably offered

- Chris Devenski- $1.4MM ($0.6MM)- probably offered

Essentially, I am assuming all of these players, except Harris, will be offered arbitration. The total 2018 salary here was $29.84MM. The projected 2019 salaries are $44.5MM.

Therefore, after all of these moves the

- Astros net losses are Keuchel, Gonzalez, Morton, Gattis, Sipp, Maldonado, Harris, and McCann

- The total salary off the books is $83.26MM

- The total arbitration expenses for 2019 is $44.5MM

Next, we will start the process of managing the 40-man roster in preparation for the Rule 5 draft.

Read Part 1 here.

***Stats from Baseball-Reference, Sportrac, and Fangraphs***

Astros – The Off-Season Strategy Session - Part 1

It is the offseason. When every hardcore baseball fan transforms from Manager of the Year (in their mind) to Executive of the Year (again in their mind.)

I am no different. In fact, the boys at “Talking Stros” know me as LarrytheGM because this is my time of the year where I have the plan to restore the Astros to the rightful place atop the baseball world.

This year, rather than fill your Twitter feed with ideas, we will submit them for the record here at Houston Preeminence. Hopefully, this will serve as your roadmap and guide until pitchers and catchers report in February. Here, I am released from the tyranny of 280 characters, so buckle in for deep analysis here.

My passion is our team- the Astros, so let us take this systematic approach to go through the decisions already made and the decisions ahead:

  1. Review the strengths and relative weaknesses of this roster and what are the priorities for an upgrade
    1. Looking backward at 2018
    2. Projecting forward in 2019
  2. Contract decisions - who are the free agents leaving, option opt-ins/ outs, arbitrations, qualifying offers
  3. Rule 5 draft and the roster- Who will be on the 40-man roster?
  4. MLB Free Agents
    1. What are the biggest needs?
    2. Who can the Astros REALISTICALLY resign
    3. Who the Astros should target to sign and why
  5. Payroll Management- what does the likely payroll project to grow to over the next 3-4 years
  6. What does the LarrytheGM Astros 2019 roster look like
    1. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this 2019 roster
    2. What are the key contingencies to reinforce the potential weaknesses
  7. Predictions for LarrytheGM 2019 Astros

The following sections will serve as your roadmap to the offseason and help you understand why the Astros are doing what they are doing.

This information is separated into two sections. Sections 1-4 are below. Sections 5-7 will be presented next week.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the 2018 roster

What if we could evaluate the Astros roster position by position to get OBJECTIVELY a sense of where the roster was strongest and weakest? My method evaluates the wRC+ each team accumulated at that position and rank that relative to the other teams in MLB. To do this, I used the Fangraphs.com output of team statistics by position in ranking to the other 30 teams. Players are sorted into their primary position for this analysis. For example, the Astros had 86 wRC+ from the catchers in 2018, and this was ranked 14th in the MLB.

Methodology note:

I will address a potential flaw in this analysis. The wRC+ stat does not account for the effect of defense on the value of payers at a position. I would prefer to use WAR and I will in the forward-looking 2019 analysis. WAR is a counting stat and the way Fangraphs sorts the data the Astros actually would rank low at Shortstop because the games Marwin Gonzalez and Alex Bregman played at SS are counted into their primary positions. Given this data sorting, I have chosen to use wRC+ to look back at 2018 and WAR for projecting 2019.

To simplify the value of each position, I took the ranking (14th for a catcher in the example) and reframed on a rating scale of 1 to 10 as such:

Larry 1.png

Therefore, the catching position would be scaled a 6. The table illustrates this wRC+ methodology for each position and for pitching based on ERA. For context, one can compare the Astros with the other LCS teams here, and you can see the 2018 Astros compare very favorably.

Larry 2.png

What is interesting to note is that the Astros had no REAL weaknesses. The lowest rating score is Left Field at 5. The other LCS teams all had at least one position that ranked in the bottom 3 in the MLB. This balance for the Astros helped make them an EXCELLENT regular season team and reflects the depth they had at all positions.

However, as we project forward to decide how to improve the team for 2019, this balance makes it somewhat challenging to decide what areas must be addressed first. If every position is average or above, how you take the average and make them better everywhere? THIS is the challenge the 2018 roster would provide us if we assumed EVERYONE would return for 2019. Since that will not happen, the next step is to project the relative performance by position in 2019 given who is committed to the roster currently.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the current projected 2019 roster

We will address the likely roster decisions in the next article, but for this analysis, we will utilize the projected Depth Chart rosters (under the team's tab) in the Fangraphs.com. These projections are very much fluid as teams make options decisions and either sign or release players. A similar ranking methodology will be deployed but using the projected WAR as the basis.

Larry 3.PNG

This analysis highlights that Catcher, First Base, and Left Field are the positions that project to lag at average or below. Again, the Astros roster projects to have no positions that are bottom of the league weaknesses. I am not positive I believe that.

Catcher- Projected currently as Stassi and Stubbs (backup). It is likely that the Astros will do SOMETHING to replace McCann. As it is today, I would consider the Astros catchers to be at or near the bottom of the MLB. This is a key priority for this offseason.

First Base- Projected as Gurriel and White (backup). As Gurriel ages his contract also contracts ($10MM in 2019 and $8MM in 2020). The playing time between Gurriel vs. White at 1B may shift more to White especially if Gurriel deploys more as a utility backup. More on that later.

Left Field- Projected as Kemp and Tucker (backup). I believe Kyle Tucker starts during most of 2019 to prove he is the top prospect and future star the Astros hope he is. Therefore, I expect the roles to be reversed here with Kemp playing a utility outfielder role or possibly packaged in a trade.

Almost shockingly, the Fangraphs projection still frames the Astros Starting Pitching (without Keuchel, Morton, and McCullers for about half the year) as the number TWO starting pitching staff. The projected staff includes Verlander, Cole, James, McCullers, Peacock, Valdez, Whitley, Bukauskas, and Rodgers. Clearly, they believe Josh James will be given every opportunity to succeed. Interestingly, McHugh in this projection lists still as a Relief Pitcher. I expect that will change. I believe the Astros will get at least one experienced pitcher to add to this group and the last Starting Pitcher will come from the list of the last 5 pitchers listed.

With the look back at 2018 complete and understanding what some project for 2019 in mind, let’s look at the overall likely roster changes for 2019.

Check back for part 2 soon.

***Stats from Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs***

Astros Rumors: Are they looking at catcher Yasmani Grandal?

Could the Astros land one of the top catching free agents this offseason?

As of right now, the Astros catcher for the 2019 season would be Max Stassi. He would be backed up by either Chris Hermann or Garrett Stubbs. Even though Stubbs is one of the Astros top 30 prospects, he has no MLB experience but could win the job with a hot spring training. However, the Astros are not really in a position to give kids a chance to play unless they have no other options.

When you are competing for a championship, you need to add to the depth of the roster. This is the problem; they have no proven option in the system at the moment. They have traded away Jacob Nottingham and Jake Rogers over the past three seasons. They were both labeled catchers of the future, but so was Stassi at one point.

Brian McCann and Martin Maldonado are now free agents. The Astros declined the 15 million dollar option on McCann after an injury-riddled season. With that move, they have decided to move on from McCann, but they would be interested in retaining Maldonado for the right deal. Until then, they will look what’s on the catching market and monitor the J.T. Realmuto market.

One intriguing name who the Astros could be looking at is Yasmani Grandal. Yes, the Dodgers catcher. The same one whom Dodgers fans have soured on with his hitting and defense in the World Series. Grandal was offered a qualifying offer worth about $17.9 million. Should he decline and sign with another team, that team would have to sacrifice a draft pick. This is something that the Astros don’t like to do, give up draft picks.

Astros: Lance McCullers Officially has Tommy John Surgery

We finally get the news that we have been dreading since Lance McCullers left that game with what was called a strained forearm. According to Chandler Rome, McCullers had Tommy John surgery today, meaning he would miss the entire 2019 season. This was a highly rumored, so this doesn't come as a shocker. We have been discussing this on Talking Stros since the final out of the ALCS.

We had Rome on our show Sunday, an he mentioned that the Astros don't report surgeries until after it happens. This confirms that belief, and this gives Jeff Luhnow some extra work to do this offseason. Last year, McCullers had a 10-6 record with a 3.86 ERA with 142 strikeouts in 128 1/3 via Baseball-Reference. While he missed a significant chunk of time towards the end of 2018, that is a significant loss for the Astros.

McCullers along with the possible departures of Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton, opens a hole in the rotation. This may make it more likely that they re-sign Keuchel and/or Morton. As Rome said on Talking Stros, fans will miss Keuchel's arm in the rotation. With high hopes, the Astros will likely add another arm.

Look for someone like Patrick Corbin to be a possible target, but another team might outbid the Astros. They could also look to make a trade for Robbie Ray from the Diamondbacks in a trade similar to the Gerrit Cole trade. They will look to make a splash to solidify the rotation after the starting pitchers carried the team last year.

Don't forget about the in-house candidates in Collin McHugh, Framber Valdez, Josh James, and possibly Forrest Whitley. Luhnow even mentioned that McHugh is likely to join the rotation. This void left by McCullers is a big deal that the Astros will now have to address this offseason. Will dig deeper in future posts, but the Astros will play without McCullers in 2019.

Astros: We know a little about Lance McCullers’ injury

The Houston Astros have been really quiet about the status of Lance McCullers so far this offseason.

On Talking Stros, we have been addressing the possibility of him missing the entire 2019 season. The rumors were that Lance McCullers was pitching with a torn UCL in the playoffs. If that was the case, it was an odd decision, but also shows how valuable McCullers is. No matter if he had surgery right after the Astros were eliminated or now, he would still likely miss the season.

We had Chandler Rome on this week’s Talking Stros and he said that the Astros have a weird policy. They don’t announce that a player is having surgery until it is over. Rome also said that McCullers was a little coy when he was asked about his elbow.

That could be a Jeff Luhnow thing, especially with news that could lead to a search for a starting pitcher. Knowing that you are losing possibly Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton, losing McCullers could lead to a perception of desperation to make a trade. Maybe that is why we didn’t hear of any official announcements.

Rome told us on the show that once the GM Meetings began, Luhnow could no longer dodge the issue. He was right, as Luhnow offered up something yesterday. Via Rome, Luhnow finally admitted that there was an issue about McCullers’ elbow. But he then gave a maybe, maybe not answer.

Via Rome, McCullers “has been seen by some doctors and I think we’re going to know more shortly.” When asked if he will pitch next year, he replied, "If he has surgery, no. If he doesn't, yes,"

So, we are back at square one. We have confirmed that there is an injury, but don’t know if it’s Tommy John surgery. Now, Luhnow has to alter his offseason plans for the rotation, if he has surgery that is. Instead of two openings in the rotation, they could have three of them.

They could always re-sign Keuchel or Morton, but the later will want a longer contract. They can sign or trade for someone outside the organization, but it’s hard to replace what McCullers offers. You have Collin McHugh who could move back to the rotation. Youngsters such as Framber Valdez, Josh James, and Forrest Whitley could fill in the back of the rotation.

We still continue to wait for word on McCullers’ elbow. This announcement could change the focus this offseason. Anytime you hear about elbow injuries to pitchers, it makes you worried.

Is It an Excuse to Say the Astros Lost Because of Injuries?

The Astros lost. Wow, that hurts to say.

Don’t you just wish they could’ve been winners forever? How great of a feeling was it for your favorite hometown team to finally be on top of the world? Before the Astros won, the last Houston championship was twenty-one years prior, by the Rockets. Many fans weren’t even breathing the last time Houston tasted gold.

The Astros had their shot to do something that hasn’t been done in 18 years, go back to back. However, they were halted in their history-chasing tracks by a Red-Sox team that frankly was a lot better than the Astros were, in this series. However, you’d think the series should have been a lot more even. On paper the Stros’ were the better team simply due to their pitching, so what happened?

You can say whatever you want to help you cope with getting knocked out of the playoffs, but the fact is, Boston played better. No one will debate that. However, one argument that has been on repeat is, “if Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa had been fully healthy, would the series have gone differently?” It’s not a far-fetched question. Altuve’ and Correa are the two rocks in the middle of the Astros lineup. They’re the anchors, the heavy hitters, the cornerstones, one of the best two-men tandems in the game today, but had they been fully healed from injuries, would it have made a difference?

In the American League Championship series, the Astros batted a measly .219 as a team, while Boston hit .233. Not that much of a difference, right? Let’s dive a little deeper. With runners on, the Astros batted .190. That’s abysmal. The Red-Sox batted .257. With runners on base with two outs, the Astros batted .244. The Red-Sox batted .303. They came up in clutch situations and performed. The Astros did not.

With runners in scoring position and two outs, the Red-Sox batted an astonishing .389. Houston batted .280. The Sox took care of most of their offensive opportunities while the Astros just couldn’t cash in. Would Altuve or Carlos have made a difference? Possibly. However, I doubt it would’ve been enough to overcome an offensive unit that seemed to grab you by the throat and feast, every time they smelled blood in the water.

Going into the series everyone thought the Astros pitching would’ve propelled them past the Sox, but in this crazy world of baseball, it was the exact opposite. The Red-Sox starters had an earned run average of 4.38, and the Astros had an earned run average of 5.53. Neither are great numbers, but let’s dive deeper one more time. The Red-Sox bullpen had an earned run average of 3.54, and the Astros, even in their pen that had been so dominant all season, had an earned run average of 5.79. Could even two phenomenal players like Correa and Altuve being 100% make up that much of a difference in this series?

Carlos Correa seemed to be turning a corner, as he was connecting with the ball for the first time in what seemed like an extremely long time. However, the power numbers still weren’t there, so it didn’t matter much. Altuve, always being the little engine that can, played his heart out even on a bum knee. Who knows? Maybe with the heart of your lineup healthy, it might have energized the entire offense. Momentum is a key factor in any playoff series, and without Altuve and Correa, there just seemed to be none.

Could it have gone differently? Certainly. However, even with Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve at full capacity, the bullpen would have to have been on par. It wasn’t. The starting pitching would have had to have been stellar like it had been all season. It wasn’t. What we’re left with is a lot of questions, and disappointment, and sad memories of how the Astros were shut down in five games. It should have gone better, but baseball has a way of kicking you in your butt. Injuries played a large part, sure. Many of our hometown heroes were beaten up. However, you can’t put all the fault on it and ignore the obvious that Boston was the better team. Congratulations to the Red Sox, and hopefully we see you right back in October, next year.

**All stats courtesy of Astros.com**

Dallas Keuchel Shares his Opinion on the Astros Qualifying Offers

Dallas Keuchel is surprised that he was the only Astros player extended a qualifying offer.

The Houston Astros have made their final decisions on whom they offered qualifying offers to before last Friday's deadline. A qualifying offer is similar to a franchise tag in the NFL, a one year deal for $17.9 million. The team can extend a qualifying offer to the player who can either accept or decline the offer. If he accepts, the player would be awarded the one year deal, but they can still negotiate an extension. If the player declines, he is free to sign anywhere.

The player can sign anywhere, but the team extending the qualifying offer would receive a compensation pick should that player sign elsewhere. There lies the problem. Teams are hesitant to sign players knowing that they will have to give up a pick. Last year, we saw players like Jake Arrieta and Mike Moustakas struggle to find a team. With the way the Astros value draft picks, you would think that they would extend their three eligible players the qualifying offers.

Instead, the Astros only extend a qualifying offer to Dallas Keuchel and not Marwin Gonzalez and Charlie Morton. The qualifying offer is a gamble because $17.9 million is a large number, so they look at it as a player by player basis. Last year, Keuchel made $13.5 million through arbitration. His projected market value is more than $20 million per season via Sportrac, so if he accepts the offer, the Astros will get a great deal.

Astros: 434 Days Later After the Storm

A look at what 2017 meant for Astros fans after Hurricane Harvey.

At the time of this writing, it’s been exactly 434 days since Hurricane Harvey made landfall and brought with it the heavy rains and heavier hearts. It’s also been 365 days since the Houston Astros raised the commissioner’s trophy, too. I would venture to say if you’re a baseball fan and lived in Houston in late August of 2017, both of those days were pretty memorable. Although separate events, they can most assuredly be thought of in unison for the rest of our lives. This piece you’re reading here is about that time. Moreover, it’s not because we need a constant reminder of the rain and the pain, but because as we sit here a year removed from it all, in it lays a story of identity.

When Hurricane Harvey planted itself on top of the city last Fall, it poured more rain onto our makeshift city of asphalt than any before it; 60.5”. That’s an inch less than the distance between the pitcher's mound and home plate. It flooded over 200,000 homes. It destroyed almost a million cars. It cost over $125 billion worth of damage. Yah, with a “B.” The flooding that covered the state was the size of New Jersey. It was historically, one of the worst hurricanes in history. That is to say; it was going to take an equally historic moment in the lives of affected Houstonians everywhere to gain some sort of healing from it all.

Enter, the Houston Astros.

As these Astros approached the postseason in 2017, they did so with hearts burdened from a city under water. They were forced to play a home series in Florida because the city was still reeling with devastation. Moreover, because the Texas Rangers wouldn’t swap a home & home. However, the team, as somber as they were in returning, took on an identity. They became healers. After the hurricane, the team went 20-8 in September as the hottest team in baseball, and finished the year with 101 wins; good for third in the American League.

They were healthy, they were hot, and they realized pretty quickly they were playing for a community that was desperate for a good story. While the Astros were playing their games in September, homes were still under water. While the Astros were tearing up opposing pitchers on the road, Houstonians were tearing off drywall back home. While the Astros were running around the bases, Houstonians were running around the city registering for FEMA aid packages and making stops at church triage centers. As the Astros were pouring champagne down each other’s backs for their first division title in over a decade, tears were pouring down the faces of thousands and thousands of Houstonians whose homes were classified as “uninsurable” and were damaged beyond repair.

However, then October came.

As the Astros sewed on their, “Houston Strong” patches, there was a “we need this” kind of expectation for the team. Because we did. The city had been through so much. We had been slugged in the face. A big fat black eye that was going to take years to recover from. Our homes destroyed. Entire families trapped in houses only to never get out. Baseball seemed so far off, but it wasn’t. The city needed the true character of the city to emerge from below the flooded streets. The city needed someone in a position of opportunity and authority to show the world who we really were. We needed people to see somehow what was inside the hearts of over 5 million people. All eyes were on Houston; how would we respond? How would they react?

Well…did they ever. Altuve homered three times in Game 1. Bregman launched balls over The Monster. Off belly-button Chris Sale. Justin Verlander went 4-0 heading into the World Series, and Lance McCullers threw 157 straight curveballs against the Yankees (actually it was 24). Marwin hit the most clutch home run in Astros history off Kenley Jenson, Derek Fisher scored the 13th and winning run in the best playoff game ever played during game 5, and George Springer catapulted baseballs into the deep California sky in Game 7.

Just like that, as Seager grounded the last ball of 2017 to the league MVP at second base, the Astros became a group of healers. They took on the heartache of millions of people and if only for a moment, turned it into hope; into tears of joy.

It’s been a full year.

I can still feel the sensation of seeing Yuli’s hands raise to his hands in disbelief. He couldn’t believe they did it. None of us could. None of us could believe that 25 guys could spend three weeks in the cold Fall of South Texas, of Boston, of Southern California and give us hope from a round white ball and brown wooden bat. None of us could believe that after five feet of rain leveled the city, a five-foot something Venezuelan righty could lead a team from disparity to glory. From 100 loses to 100 wins. But he did. Moreover, we will never forget it. The 2017 Astros won the division. They won the pennant. Moreover, they won the World Series. But raising the trophy on Fire Engine 69 meant only one thing to them, and to the city of Houston: we won’t be backed into a corner, we won’t be beat and we will rise up from the challenges that face us and come together as a community to overcome anything that could possibly come our way.

Forrest Whitley: The Next Evolution of Astro Pitching

The sting of losing in the postseason still seems fresh, the offseason is now upon us.

The Houston Astros have some work to do if they are to challenge the new champion Boston Red Sox for the title next season. With free agency in full swing, general manager Jeff Lunhow is sure to work the phones to see what’s available, while also trying to retain some of his own free agents. While its no secret that everyone loves the big sexy free agent to walk through their clubhouse doors, the best addition is homegrown talent.

Thanks to the great work by the Astros front office, and scouting department, the answer to some of the offseason questions might be on the way to a ‘Juice Box’ near you. His name is Forrest Whitley. So, to quote the great film G.I. Jane, “Are you ready for the next evolution!”

Forrest Whitley is not only the Astros top prospect. He is the best pitching prospect in all of baseball. There are some that compared him coming out of high school to the very successful pitcher that wears the number 35 for your Houston Astros. Maybe you’ve heard of him? His name is Justin Verlander. The kid is a mountain, standing six foot seven inches tall. That’s a very intimidating dude standing on the bump coming at you with a serious arsenal of pitches including an above average fastball that can touch 98.

He backs that up with a really sharp curveball that will only get better once the spin rate masters in Houston get their hands on him. He completes his repertoire of pitches with a slider with great movement off the plate and a change that really hasn’t been seen too much because quite frankly he hasn’t needed it. Now that you have the tale of the tape lets talk about how he is dominating the Arizona Fall League.

Going into the AFL Whitley was known as a big strikeout guy and had the numbers to back it. He did not disappoint in the desert heat striking out the first seven batters he faced in his first game. Over five games he would strike out 23 batters in 17 1/3 innings pitched. That effort earned him a place in the AFL fall stars game which is reserved for the top performers throughout the entire league.

This upcoming spring training will be huge for Forrest to see if the dominance he displayed in the minors and the Arizona Fall League can translate into big league success. For a team that could be without possibly three pieces of its rotation from last year, his arm will be a premium addition at a very inexpensive price. If he can make the team and be even half of what Justin Verlander is at his age, the Astros should be in a fantastic spot to make another run at a title.

Source: MLB.com

Market Street: Astros Free Agency Outlook

The foundation of the Houston Astros remains solid and intact heading into the 2019 offseason with Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Lance McCullers all secured for another season at the “Juice Box.” However, this winter will be a bit different then it was following the franchise’s first ever World Series title. Jeff Lunhow has some key decisions to make and a few holes to fill on this roster before making another run towards October success.

Houston will have seven of its players from last year’s roster testing the free agent market in the upcoming months. Starting pitchers Dallas Kuechel and Charlie Morton, lefty reliever Tony Sipp, catchers Brian McCann and Martin Maldonado, designated hitter Evan Gattis and utility superman Marwin Gonzalez.

In all likelihood, the Astros will let Sipp, McCann, Maldonado and Gattis walk and find employment elsewhere. Over the past few seasons, Sipp’s pitching has been up and down and is an expendable part of what is now a loaded bullpen. Gattis had some key moments, with his “lumberjack” look and power at the plate, but overall underproduced.

Maldonado, whom they acquired late in the season when McCann was going to miss some time, is among the best defensive backstops in the game. With a rough postseason behind the plate and quality catchers available the Astros could be looking for a player with a better bat to insert into the line-up.

Charlie Morton has expressed some interest in a possible return to Houston. However, he also stated that retirement is a legitimate option, as well as wanting to be closer to his family in the Northeast. His tenure as an Astro was successful, but he is now 35 and battled injuries most of his career before coming to the Astros. So if he were to return, it would be on a one year deal at a fair market price.

As for Dallas Kuechel, he looks to draw loads of interest on the market. The former Cy Young winner has struggled since winning the award, but the Southpaw out of the University of Arkansas finished off last season strong and will be seeking a long-term deal at a lofty price. I don’t see owner Jim Crane and Lunhow overpaying or wanting to invest in him long term, so the market for him may squeeze the Astros out of signing him. Not to mention, they gave him a qualifying offer so if he does sign elsewhere they will be compensated.

In my opinion, the toughest decision this offseason is Marwin Gonzalez. I have no doubt the Astros brass would love to have their versatile fielder back, but at what cost? A manager’s dream player, one that can be plugged into pretty much any position on the field (outside of pitcher and catcher) will be highly sought after and most likely overpaid regarding what he brings with his bat. Marwin was a clutch hitter the last two seasons, riding the momentous wave during the teams World Series run produced his best season to date. However, his numbers dwindled last season, and if the Astros enter a bidding war, is what he has done enough to warrant what might have to be paid to keep him?

So where does that leave A.J. Hinch and his roster going into free agency? Their biggest needs include an everyday catcher (assuming they don’t resign McCann or Maldonado), a middle infielder, a corner outfielder, and a starting pitcher. Like most teams, they will look to add depth at all levels of the organization. Here are the main areas they will be looking to lock down.

CATCHER

Big names that will most likely be considered are Johnathan Lucroy, Wilson Ramos, Yasmani Grandal, Matt Wieters and Nick Hundley. The pipeline at catcher is thin within the organization, and surely they will move to bring in an everyday starter, while Max Stassi serves as the primary back up. Lucroy (.241 AVG/4 HR/51 RBI/.617 OPS) has the best major league track record, while Ramos (.297 AVG/ 14 HR/53 RBI/.834 OPS) is considered to have the highest upside. When healthy, Wieters (.238 AVG/8 HR/30 RBI/.704 OBP) is a quality option, but he hasn’t been healthy. Grandal (.241 AVG/24 HR/68 RBI/.815 OPS) has developed into an All-Star caliber player, and Hundley (.241 AVG, 10 HR/31 RBI/.706 OPS) has become a reliable option as well.

MIDDLE INFIELDER

If Marwin Gonzalez signs with another team, the Astros are stranded without an experienced backup infielder. The recent injuries experienced by Altuve and Correa make this role more relevant of a need, and the options in free agency to this point are thin regarding quality. The best option available is Freddy Galvis (.248 AVG/13 HR/ 67 RBI/.680 OPS). His age falls in the more appealing side of 30 and has started showing some promise as a hitter. Jordy Mercer (.251 AVG/2 HR/ 6 RBI/.696 OPS) is coming off of a down year but has a track record of being a versatile utility man in the past. The market is then left with journeymen and guys who don’t play more than one side of the bag.

LEFT FIELD

The left field spot will likely be up for grabs heading into Spring Training. The highly revered youngster, Kyle Tucker, is being groomed for the role. However, unfortunately, during his time at the big league level last season, he showed very little. They may decide to keep him in AAA to start the season and refine his game a bit more and gain some confidence before calling him back up. Thus creating a huge need for a veteran, everyday guy to be a stop gap.

They have some options on possible one year guys, in the likes of Nick Markakis (.297 AVG, 14 HR, 93 RBI, .806 OPS), long-time Oriole Adam Jones (.281 AVG, 15 HR, 63 RBI, .732 OPS) and Carlos Gonzalez (.276 AVG, 16 HR, 64 RBI, .796 OPS). They will demand a bit of money but could be had on a one year deal. A cheaper option is out there as well, a guy like Melky Cabrera (.280 AVG, 6 HR, 39 RBI, .755 OPS) could make a great addition to the Astros.

STARTING PITCHER

With the likely departures of Kuechel and/or Morton, at least one spot in the rotation will need to be filled. Josh James and his 100+ MPH heat impressed last season enough to at least warrant a spot to start the 2019 season. Framber Valdez will get his chance to compete during spring training. Although Brady Rogers and Forrest Whitley are considered to be the future; they won’t be rushed up to the majors to start next year.

Since the Astros will be a legit contender again next year, they will most likely look for another veteran arm to add to the mix. An impressive showing late last season that continued into the playoffs makes Nate Eovaldi (6-7, 3.81 ERA, 101k, 1.13 WHIP, 111 INN) a standout player to be heavily pursued this offseason. Add the facts that he will only be 29 at the start of next season and hails from Houston, then Eovaldi sounds like a perfect fit.

If it’s a lefty they plan to sign to replace Kuechel, a veteran like Gio Gonzalez (10-11, 4.21 ERA, 148K, 1.44 WHIP, 171 INN) can be had and most likely on a short-term deal. Cole was brought in last year hoping to revive his career, and it’s possible the Astros could look to do the same with a guy like Matt Harvey (7-9, 4.94 ERA, 131K, 1.30 WHIP, 15 INN). Not long ago, Harvey was considered the ace of a young and loaded Mets’ rotation.

Other names to consider are Jeremy Hellickson (5-3, 3.45 ERA, 65K, 1.07 WHIP, 91.1 INN), Drew Pomeranz (2-6, 6.08, 6k, 1.77 WHIP, 74 INN), Garrett Richards (5-4, 3.66 ERA, 87 K, 1.28 WHIP, 76.1 INN) and Brett Anderson (4-5, 4.48 ERA, 47 K, 1.28 WHIP, 80.1 INN, and is also a lefty. .

“Winter is coming.”

As the long winter progresses, more names will become available when teams start shuffling pieces, dumping salaries and making trades. We have only just begun the “hot stove” portion of MLB, but no matter how Lunhow, Crane, and Hinch plug the holes in the roster, fans can be assured that winning is a priority and the Astros are doing it the right way.

*All stats are from MLB.com and are 2018 stats.

​Astros: Who should the team re-sign this offseason?

Let’s start with who are the guys on the team that will become free agents for the Astros.
Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Tony Sipp, Marwin Gonzalez, and Martin Maldonado.
Let’s look at the pitchers first. Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 Cy Young winner, can test the free agency waters for the first time in his career. My guess is he’s gone. The Astros have Verlander and Cole as their 1A and 1B in the starting rotation. The Astros have already extended a qualifying offer to him. If he accepts, great. If not the team gets a pick in the draft. Next, Charlie Morton, or as I affectionately call him CFM. (I’ll let you decide what it stands for.)

If he wants to keep pitching, then I would really like to see him brought back. I think two years for $28 million would be a reasonable offer. I really can’t see the Astros bringing back Tony Sipp. They have Framber Valdez they can use as a lefty in the bullpen to fill the void that Sipp would leave.

Marwin Gonzalez, the super utility player. AJ Hinch, the Astros manager, has said in the past if he has a problem, Marwin is the answer. Gonzalez is going to command a lot on the open market. If I’m the Astros, I match the offer. He is too valuable to the club to let go.

Martin Maldonado is a fascinating player. He’s one of the best defensive catchers in the game, regardless of his struggles in the ALCS. When you have a catcher who can eliminate guys on the bases, it makes it difficult to let him walk away. I think the Astros should re-sign him if you let McCann walk

Evan Gattis is an interesting guy for me. The Astros can fill the DH hole with a better player. Currently, they have Tyler White who can fill the hole and did so for the second half of the season. Alternatively, maybe trade for Paul Goldschmidt. (One can dream, right?) The Diamondbacks are willing to listen to offers and Goldschmidt would be a great fit in his hometown of Houston. I would prefer Goldschmidt and bringing him back to the Lone Star State where he played college ball would be ideal.

In conclusion, the Astros should bring back Morton, Gonzalez, and Maldonado. Marwin will cost the most, but he’s equally as valuable to the team. If they’re not able to re-sign Morton, they have guys in the system ready to go. I’d look for Josh James to get the early nod and expect to see Forrest Whitley called up at some point next season.

Should the Astros Pursue Bryce Harper?

Would the Astros even consider chasing Bryce Harper?

The 2018 Major League Baseball offseason is shaping up to be one of the biggest free agent pools that we’ve had in quite some time. Unlike past years where there were noticeable shortages in certain free agent positions, this winter boasts big names at nearly every single position. Below is a list, by position of just a few notable names via CBS Sports.

  • Catchers: Martin Maldanado, Kurt Suzuki, Matt Wieters, Jonath Lucroy, Wilson Ramos,
  • First Basemen: Joe Mauer, Matt Adams, Mark Reynolds, Steve Pearce,
  • Second Basemen: Jed Lowrie, Ian Kinsler, Daniel Murphy, Brian Dozier, D.J. LeMahieu
  • Third Basemen: Josh Donaldson, Eduardo Escobar, Adrian Beltre, Pablo Sandoval
  • Shortstop: Manny Machado, Elvis Andrus, Alcides Escobar, Jose Iglesias
  • Outfielders: Michael Brantley, Marwin Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson, A.J. Pollock, Leonys Martin, Adam Jones, Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Nick Markakis, Jason Heyward, Carlos Gonzalez
  • Designated hitters: Evan Gattis, Nelson Cruz
  • Starting Pitchers: Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel, Clayton Kershaw, (who has an opt-out clause) J.A. Happ, Charlie Morton, David Price, Lance Lynn, Nathan Eovaldi, Gio Gonzalez, and sixteen other starters who give you a positive WAR.
  • Relievers: Adam Ottavino, Jeurys Familia, David Robertson, Craig Kimbrel, Jake Diekman, Andrew Miller, Kelvin Herrera, Mark Melancon, (has an opt-out clause) Greg Holland, Zach Britton, Cody Allen

The list is massive, and it seems as if once the 2019 campaign comes along, the landscape of baseball will be different. Expect only a handful of these impending free agents to sign back with their previous teams. The talks will be fast, the negotiations will be frequent, and this will be one of the best times, as a free agent player, to get the contract that you’ve been dreaming of since you broke into the league.

The most intriguing player

There is one name though, on the list, that seems to stand out more than most, and whether that be due to his antics when he was first breaking the rookie barrier, his outright cocky nature, or the fact that one General Manager in 2017 said, “Four hundred million is light.” "It's going to be more than that. If you could sign him to a 15-year contract, you do it. I would say something in the range of $35 million a year, maybe closer to the high 30s. It could approach 40 million dollars a year." Bryce Harper is certainly going to be a hot commodity this offseason, but is he worth the trouble, and the finances, to try and persuade to come to Houston?

The Pros

Bryce Harper is dynamic whether on or off the field. Only really rivaling Mike Trout in most known names in baseball, Harper is a spark plug. Coming into the league at only nineteen years old, Bryce Harper has made a career for himself, and he’s still only twenty-six years old, barely into his prime. In seven seasons with the Nationals, he has already compiled a nice list of achievements.

He’s attended six All-Star games, won rookie of the year, collected a silver slugger, and won the Most Valuable Player award in 2015. He’s hit over thirty home runs, twice, and nearly hit thirty once again in 2017, only missing the mark by one. He’s hit 184 home runs total, 183 doubles, and is a career .279 hitter. With a career 27.8 WAR according to Baseball-Reference, there’s no doubt that Harper is a game changer on the baseball field.

The Cons

The contract and the injuries. If you talk about potentially signing Bryce Harper, there are two main issues that you must have in the back of your mind. How much am I going to be paying him? Will he be able actually to stay on the field? He’s played seven years in Washington, and four out seven years, he’s played 139 games or less. He’s dealt with more than four or five injuries, two being to his knees.

If you’re going to be paying a player potentially, you need to know that he’s going to be able to be healthy and contribute, and according to Greg Kirkland of Pinstripe Alley, “Take Bryce Harper for example. The young 26-year old superstar outfielder is apparently looking to start the signing discussion at ten years, $350 million.” That’s $35 million a season, roughly. When you look at that amount of money, you have to ask yourself, if Harper can’t stay on the field, does his production, and his power, and his ability to hit the ball, outweigh the risk he might not even be in every game down the stretch.

Should the Astros go for it?

It’s not an easy decision, and Jeff Luhnow and Jim Crane are undoubtedly going to make a lot of tough choices come the winter meetings and into next season. Do you bring Dallas Keuchel back? Do you bring Marwin Gonzalez back? Do you bring Charlie Morton back? Do you sign one of the biggest young stars in the game to such a lucrative contract?

The decision will ultimately come down to, what happens with Marwin Gonzalez. If they can’t re-sign Gonzalez, it’s going to be very intriguing not only because he played much outfield, but he played many positions everywhere, and he produced everywhere. If you want a sure-fire productive player to replace Gonzalez, there are no shortages.

However, as stated, Harper is only twenty-six years old, and still very early in his prime, meaning, what we’ve seen so far out of him might just be the beginning. What can happen if he’s in a lineup surrounded by a healthy and thriving Carlos Correa? If Bregman, Altuve, Springer, all get on before him. It’s a short porch in left, and Harper can make many fireworks go off using it to his advantage. Do you give him that much money, with Bregman, Altuve, Springer, and Correa waiting to be paid?

There is no right answer to give, but this can be said in place of one. Winning team’s windows are often limited. The Astros have a deep system that can last for the next four or five years, and that’s their advantage. It’s going to be a fun offseason, and I trust Crane and Luhnow to make the right decisions, no matter what happens.

**Stats and quotes courtesy of CBSSports, MLB.COM, Baseball-Reference, Pinstripealley**

​Is Marwin Gonzalez​ the Most Important Astros Player to be Re-signed?

Heading into the 2018 offseason, the Houston Astros have some very important decisions to make.

With it being a vast market in between seasons, meaning this is one of the steepest pools of free agents that we’ve ever seen hit the open market. There’s going to be plenty of opportunities for other teams in the league to add depth and talent to their rosters. Many players are going to find new homes, and the Astros hometown 25 isn’t going to be immune to losing favorite faces that they’ve grown accustomed to seeing day in and day out. Let’s take a look at just who will be seeking a new contract in the coming months.

Notable Astros that are now without a home are Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Evan Gattis, Tony Sipp, Martin Maldonado, and Marwin Gonzalez. They will all be free agents going into the winter. These are some very crucial names that play important roles for the Astros.

Starting pitchers

Keuchel is the number three starter in the rotation behind Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. He’s spent seven years in Houston, three or four as the Ace of the staff, compiling a 3.74 era, a Cy Young Award, and two all-star appearances. However, there have been talks that Keuchel has never been quite the same after his Cy Young winning season in 2015. No longer a spring chicken, you could argue that he’s still got a year or two left in his prime.

He’s not a real hard thrower, and he relies heavily on getting weak contact and ground balls, meaning he might last a few years longer than most hard-throwing pitchers. He’s an effective starter when he’s on and could easily be an ace on any staff, but he also does have an injury history and will command a hefty sum. Do you re-sign Keuchel? You will have to potentially pay other budding stars such as Alex Bregman, George Springer, and Carlos Correa. The Astros have options at AAA in Forrest Whitley, but he’s not a lefty. Effective lefties are hard to come by.

Charlie Morton is a player that the entire Astros fan base would love to see come back for a season or two more. Morton debated retirement at the end of this season, but has spoken up and stated, per Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle, that, “I’d love to keep playing,” “I’d love to be an Astro. I’d love to be a part of this again.

Ultimately, it’s not really up to me. It’s not solely up to me.” He’s become a fan favorite. Morton won two game sevens in the Astros first World Series championship run. He won’t soon be forgotten, and the way he’s pitched the past two seasons, why should he be? He’d only be looking for a one- or two-year deal, it just depends once again on the price tag he commands. There’s no doubt other teams will be speaking to him as well.

Key but minor players.

Gattis, Maldonado, and Sipp, frankly, can all be grouped in the same circle. All have had productive moments as a member of the Astros, but options are waiting patiently behind them, or options that are fairly easy to attain

El Oso Blanco has a love of a fan base like few players do due to his backstory and what he’s personally overcome to get where he is. Though throughout his career he’s either hot as burning lava or as cold as ice, he’s hit at least twenty home runs in every one of his major league seasons except one. He’s a career .250 hitter. Apart from your love of the lumberjack, is there really a reason to bring him back, as much as that hurts to say? There are other options at DH, and that’s mainly what he is nowadays.

Maldonado is a special case because he’s a gold glove defender and is one of the best at catching base-stealers in both the National and American league. His bat also seemed to awaken during his second half go around with Astros. The only question you have with Maldonado is can his bat stay the same next season or is it worth pursuing a proven upgrade offensively such as J.T. Realmuto, Yasmani Grandal, or Jonathan Lucroy.

Sipp has had a topsy-turvy stint as an Astro, and even he’ll admit to it. He’s been with the team since 2014 and only had two genuinely productive seasons, both being in contract years. “I know what it looks like and it still looks like,” Sipp said. “Looks like I just got my money and stopped worrying about baseball,” per Chandler Rome. Sipp knows the opinions, he’s heard them, and while it looks like he truly has turned it around in 2018, he still is turning thirty-six next season, and the Astros have lefty options ready to go in Cionel Perez and Reymin Guduan.

But is anyone as crucial as Marwin?

All the players above are loved. Keuchel took to twitter and said, “I love you Houston.” We love you too. We truly do. However, one player took to Instagram to say roughly the same thing, but with more depth and ended the post with, “Forever #Houstonstrong.” What followed were thoughts of, “What will this Houston team do without certain key players from the past six or seven seasons,” and it stretched into, “Who can this team not afford to lose,” and unanimously the decision kept landing on Gonzalez, the man of many positions.

Who else can play nearly every spot on the field at gold glove caliber levels? Who else can swing the bat from both sides of the plate and have the power and contact ability that he does from each side? How many games would have been different in the past seven seasons had Gonzalez not been able to take over defensively? How many games would have turned out differently had Gonzalez not stepped up to the plate and delivered?

The Astros might not have won a World Series in 2017 if not for his blast off Kenley Jansen. The Astros might not have even advanced to the World Series if not for his cannon of a throw home to get Greg Bird at the plate in the American League Championship series. Time and time again, Gonzalez, purely with his versatility at every position, and his versatility at the plate, have delivered for the Astros.

He will get paid, this I’m sure of.

In 2015, Ben Zobrist received a four year, fifty-six-million-dollar contract from the cubs, and Gonzalez is even better than Zobrist. How much he will receive is unknown but expect it to be a hefty contract. Should the Astros pursue such a contract for a player that doesn’t have a single position that he calls his own? Yes, they should. He’s going into his age thirty season, he’s still in his prime, and the Houston Astros should do everything in their power to re-sign such a dynamic talent. If Gonzalez isn’t back in a Houston Uniform come Opening Day next season, there will be quite a large hole to fill not only defensively, and at the plate, but also in the clubhouse and in the hearts of every single fan packing Minute Maid Park.

**Stats, quotes and sources courtesy of Sportrac, Baseball-Reference, MLB Trade Rumors, and the Houston Chronicle.**

Vegas has the Astros tied as the favorites to land Kershaw if he opts out and leaves

Should Clayton Kershaw leave the Dodgers, there is a chance he could join the Astros.

The Red Sox have won the World Series. Congrats to Alex Cora, I’m sure he’s one of the few first-year managers to win the World Series. That team played better than the Dodgers and unfortunately the Astros in the ALCS. It was long expected that whoever won the AL crown would be the likely winners of the World Series. Now that the season has finally drawn to a close, it’s time to start talking about the Astros options for the starting rotation in 2019. 

We know the Astros will be losing Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton potentially to free agency. Also, it is rumored that Lance McCullers could need offseason surgery. Nothing has been named officially, but it could be Tommy John surgery. The were some reports out that McCullers pitched in the playoffs with a torn UCL. Can you imagine having that pain in your elbow and throwing a power curve that Martin Maldonado misses, it had to be frustrating. It could also explain why he struggled in his last appearance. 

Filling in the holes.

With three potential holes in the rotation, we spent almost the entire episode of Talking Stros last night discussing the options for the Astros. While there are several in-house options, like Collin McHugh, Josh James, Framber Valdez, and Forrest Whitely, they could be looking for some options. They would want to get a number three to fit behind Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. As we discussed, there are a few free agent names that could be intriguing.

Keuchel and Patrick Corbin could be the top free agent starting pitching options going into the offseason. That is, unless a certain Dodgers ace decides to opt out of his deal. Clayton Kershaw still has two years remaining under his big extension he signed with the Dodgers back in 2014. He signed a then-record seven-year deal worth $215 million. That leaves him with two years of player options remaining for $34.6 and $35.6 million respectively for 2019 and 2020. Why would he want to opt out of that deal worth $34 million plus?

At the conclusion of that deal, Kershaw would be 32-years-old. 

He missed a significant amount of time in 2018 due to an injury. This was the third consecutive season where Kershaw could not get close to 200 innings pitched. During that time, his high innings pitched was in 2017 with 175 innings pitched. He still won 18 games in 2018 but took a step back only pitching in 26 games. The biggest red flag with Kershaw in 2018 was only 155 strikeouts in 161 1/3 innings pitched. His 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings pitched was his lowest since his 8.4 back in his rookie year in 2008. Stats from Baseball-Reference.

So, an aging pitcher who has trouble staying healthy and his strikeout rates are decreasing, why would he opt out of the guaranteed money? It makes no sense unless he is looking for a longer deal beyond the current deal. It’s not out of the realm of possibility; we saw that with Zack Greinke, who opted out from the Dodgers and ended up with the Diamondbacks. Kershaw could probably see his value take a nose dive if he can’t stay healthy in 2019 and 2020.

The odds are...

After the game last night, he said it will be an eventful three days before he can opt out of the deal. He said that he would be open to having some conversations with the Dodgers, but who knows where this goes from here. Kershaw could opt out an become a free agent, shooting him to the top of the free agent class. According to OddShark, Bravado has the Astros tied for most likely if he leaves the Dodgers. 

The Astros are tied at +375 with the Texas Rangers. The Dodgers are of course the favorite to re-sign Kershaw if he opts out at -150. You could understand why the Astros, a chance to possibly win a championship. You would get to pitch with Verlander and Cole. However, you can’t help to notice the Texas ties for Kershaw, which could explain why the Rangers are the co-favorites. Texas is a big state, but if it puts him closer to home.

Would the Astros sign Kershaw for what it would take would be a better bet? When is the last time they gave a starting pitcher a long-term deal? He would be an upgrade over Keuchel as the lefty in the bullpen. The next most likely are the Cubs and the Giants at +800. This would be a surprise for the Astros, but would be a bold move to make one of the best rotations in history. 

Listen to Talking Stros below where we look at all the options for the rotation.

Rockets: The Good, the Bad, and the Fight?

The Rockets are 1-2.

I repeat, the Rockets are 1-2 and Twitter is losing its collective mind, hoping this isn’t 2015-2016 all over again. Let me talk you off the small ledge that you are standing on before you write this season off and start looking at next year’s free agent class.

The Rockets have played three very good teams to start the season, have not had a backup center, and the defense has lacked communication. These are problems that can be easily fixed and, with time, will be worked out.

But to be fair to those fans who believe this year may be like the 2015-2016 season, the elements for a disaster are there. The 2015-2016 team did not have the offensive talent that this team has, but when bringing six new players in, new roles have to form; some newcomers may not agree or accept the roles required by the team.

Carmelo obviously can still play in this league, but he is now a bench player in the eyes of Rockets. Things may change over time if Ennis cannot perform. But for the time being, and with it so early in the season, a starting lineup change will not come until it is evident to the coaching staff that Ennis can’t do his job as a starter.

By now you have probably all seen the video of CP3 and Rondo getting into their fight, which ended in a two-game suspension of CP3. Although the Rockets did beat the Lakers behind the efforts of James Harden, MCW’s play has been subpar and there are questions regarding how he will integrate himself with this offense. But like the starting lineup, MCW will need time to adapt, and if he can’t, the coaching staff won’t be able to play him.

With reports of Jimmy Butler still being in the Rockets sights, a lot of early season results may push Daryl Morey towards or away from trading for the 5-time All-Star. However, with or without Jimmy Butler, this team will need to adapt very quickly to this season. It isn’t the Western Conference of last year. The Rockets can be beaten by a Western Conference team on any given night and they will need to bring the same intensity they showed against the Lakers to be able to win on a nightly basis.

It’s just three games. I know these losses can make people remember 2015-2016 and panic immediately, but this team has two Hall of Fame point guards, a Hall of Fame forward, and a Hall of Fame head coach. If this team is 20-20 after 40 games, I will then be worried at a level 5 on a scale from 1-10. But until then, in the words of the great Aaron Rodgers:

R-E-L-A-X

The Astros will likely offer Dallas Keuchel a qualifying offer

It is unlikely though that Dallas Keuchel will accept the qualifying offer from the Astros.

The Houston Astros are watching the World Series from home this year. After winning the World Series last year, falling short of that goal was disappointing. They look to return to the World Series again in 2019, but there could be some fresh faces next year. As soon as the final out of this year's World Series is recorded, players will file for free agency. The Astros will be stricken by the departures.

We will talk about many of the options for the Astros as the offseason progresses. One of the players the Astros are not likely to retain is Dallas Keuchel. He may be willing to sign with the Astros, but this is his best chance to maximize his value long term. In other words, he wants to test the free agent market. 

With the number of young teams looking for a top of the rotation pitched, he will get more value elsewhere. With that in mind, the Astros would like something in return for their former Cy Young Award winner. Unlike the teams who were tanking, the Astros did not have an opportunity to trade him. This is why the MLB has the qualifying offer system in place. 

The qualifying offer has become somewhat of a stigma for players seeking free agent deals. Last year, we saw players like Jake Arrieta and Mike Moustakas struggle with finding a new home. While they may be worth signing, teams don’t want to give up the pick in compensation. 

For a player like Bryce Harper, the pick is irrelevant, because you are getting potentially one of the best hitters in the game. For people like Keuchel coming off an healthy, so-so year, it could limit the teams trying for him. On the other side, it could prevent Charlie Morton from signing with another team.

The Astros are almost guaranteed to offer Keuchel a qualifying offer. 

According to Joel Sherman, the qualifying offer is $17.9 million. If they do extend the offer to Keuchel, two things can happen. 

  1. He accepts the 1-year deal for $17.9 million and will return to the Astros for 2019. (They could still work on an extension)
  2. Should he reject the offer, he will be able to sign with any other team for as much/long as he can. That team would have to give up a first-round pick in the 2019 draft to the Astros.

From the Astros point of view, either way is a win-win. He made $13.2 million last year via arbitration, via Sportrac, and his market value was going up. Sportrac has his average market value at around $20 million, so it would be below market value. If he declines, they get a first round compensation pick, which you know Jeff Luhnow loves those picks. 

It would not be wise for Keuchel to accept that offer. 

He is coming off his first healthy season since 2015 and pitched 200+ innings, which is rare in this “opener” craved MLB. Keuchel is also 30 years old, meaning this could be his last chance to get that long-term deal. If you take away his stats in the first inning, Keuchel did pitch well in 2018. While is not his 2015 form, his 13-12 record with a 3.76 ERA still qualifies him as a two or three in the rotation. Stats via Baseball-Reference.

When Keuchel tweeted out last week, “I love you Houston,” that could have been his way of saying goodbye. We saw something similar with Marwin Gonzalez this week. As much as Keuchel may want to stay, he knows how the Astros organization works. They assign a value to a player based on the analytics and offer that contract. 

The Astros have yet to lock up a pitcher long-term as well under current management. Hopefully the change their philosophies with Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander. There are many holes in the roster, but the core players remain intact. Good luck to Keuchel, I would love to have him back, but would like to have money to lock up others later. 

Talking Stros 2018-10-21 - Astros postseason reflection

The boys at Talking Stros discuss the end of the postseason dreams for the Astros who will retool and gear up for 2019.

8:00 - What went wrong during the Boston series?

8:15 – Injuries update Altuve, Correa, McCullers

8:30 – Looking back at the 2018 season

8:45 – Jeremy Booth (Views from the former scout and front office executive)

9:00 – What’s next for 2019? (Free agents, trades, needs for the team)

9:15 - The outfield picture for next year

9:30 – Kyle Kelly (free agency)

9:45 – Closing thoughts

Astros: Could Lance McCullers miss the 2019 season?

Astros fans will be waiting for the news of what is wrong with Lance McCullers. 

The bitter taste of defeat is still in the Astros mouths as they were eliminated from the playoffs. The Red Sox await their opponent in the World Series as the NLCS goes to Game 7. All we know is that the Astros fell short of back to back World Series. It was still a great season with 103 wins and has fans already waiting for spring training to begin. There are important decisions to make between now and then.

The free agents’ conundrum will be discussed often this offseason as who to retain or add to the roster? Will Jose Altuve need to have knee surgery to fix whatever is wrong with it? Can Carlos Correa fully recover from the back pain that plagued him in 2018? Also, what is really going on with Lance McCullers’ elbow?

According to Brian McTaggart, McCullers would likely need offseason surgery. We don’t know exactly what surgery yet, all we got is speculation and reports.

For what it’s worth, Joe Demayo reportedthat McCullers was pitching with a torn UCL and would have surgery after the season. This is a blow to the 2019 Astros team if true because he would likely miss the entire 2019 season. There are several reasons to not believe Demayo because he is not verified or a big-time name. I’m not going to jump to conclusions based on that one Tweet.

But there is more.

According to Ted Berg, Alex Bregman let something slip out after Game 5.

"We were banged up a bit. Lance McCullers was pitching with -- I don’t know if I’m supposed to say what he’s pitching with, but the guy has some heart."

We have all suspected that McCullers was hurt worse than we thought. When he hit the DL on August 4th, it was due to a strained forearm from swinging the bat. By the way, that is another reason why pitchers should not hit on a regular basis. Getting back on track, McCullers was out most of August and September with the injury. He did return as a reliever before the season ended and pitched five innings in the playoffs.

Then, McCullers’ wife (Kara) posted on Instagram with the hashtag #18monthcountdown. After the game on Thursday, via Chandler Rome, McCullers did say that he has “definitely been throwing through some stuff." McCullers and the training staff will do their due diligence to make sure that he can get healthy. 

If it does lead to Tommy John surgery, this will lead to an opening in the rotation for 2019. Collin McHugh will be raising his hands saying put me in coach. If he was pitching in the playoffs with a UCL tear, much respect. But, why did the Astros risk pitching him if they knew what was going on? We will now wait for the news. It won’t be the same without McCullers.

Too Hot To Handle 2018 - 10 - 19 Episode 34 - Astros Eliminated

Jacob Payne, Trey Campbell, and Keith Quigley

Topics:

04:09 - Astros Eliminated

14:39 - Fan Interference

15:49 - AJ Hinch Outmanaged

21:15 - Barrel Fire Shot Take (Raiders Fire Sale, Rockets Won't Win 50, Deshaun Watson Will Suffer Season-Ending Injury in Jacksonville)

38:00 - Texans/Jags Preview

52:45 - Does Jesus Have Interns?

55:30 - More Upsetting (Threatening Fans Who Interfere or Telling Kids to Shut Up at Sporting Events/ALCS Cheating Scandals)

2018 Astros MiLB Recap and Awards

The best of the best in the Astros farm system.

Over the last few years, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has orchestrated many trades that have contributed to the big club’s success. The downside, of course, is that by making the big club the formidable force that it is, the overall organizational depth has taken a hit. Or, has it?

Consider this list of current big leaguers that were once part of the Astros future that are now finding success with other organizations:

Mike Foltyniewicz: Ace of the playoff-bound Atlanta Braves.

Vince Velasquez: Integral part of the Phillies pitching staff and part of their promising future.

Ramon Laureano: Roaming the outfield providing highlight reel defense and a solid bat for the surprising Oakland A’s.

Josh Hader: The most dominant left-handed reliever in baseball this year for the playoff-bound Brewers.

Teoscar Hernandez: Power-hitting outfielder for the Blue Jays and a part of that team’s promising future.

Colin Moran: Fourth in NL rookies in RBI for the Pirates.

Joe Musgrove: Middle of the rotation bulldog having success with the Pirates this year after winning World Series ring last year.

Domingo Santana: A 30-homer, high OBP outfielder for the Brewers in 2017, though he had a regression and lack of playing time in 2018.

There are others as well, such as Delino DeShields, Robbie Grossman, Daniel Mengden, Michael Feliz, and David Paulino, to name a few, that have left the Astros organization via trade that are finding success at the big league level.

However, it’s not just current big leaguers that have left the organization via trade. Several top overall prospects in baseball are still waiting to bust through with their new organizations. Most notably: Albert Abreu, Jorge Guzman, Franklin Perez, Daz Cameron, Jake Rogers, Jacob Nottingham, Pat Sandoval, Peter Solomon, Adrian Houser, Jorge Alcala, Hector Perez, and Gilberto Celestino. All these players were once considered among the top prospects in the Astros system.

With such an exodus of talent from the organization in such a short period, one could safely assume that the Astros minor league system is in dire need of replenishing. One would also be emphatically wrong.

In 2018, the Astros top five affiliates each made the playoffs. They had pitching staffs that led their respective leagues in strikeouts and set a MiLB record for strikeouts in a season. Also, two teams won their league championships and had an overall record of 367-262 to lead all of baseball in organizational winning percentage. The organization still ranks in the top-10 according to MLB Pipeline and Baseball America and features two of the top eight overall prospects in the game in Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley.

So, with this as a backdrop, let’s take a closer look at what was a banner season for the Astros MiLB affiliates, some of the notable performers, and dish out some MVP awards.

Fresno Grizzlies (AAA)

Record: 82-57

Hitters:

J.D. Davis won the Triple-A batting title after hitting .342. A.J. Reed was named the team MVP by the Astros brass and led all of Triple-A with 108 RBI and finished second with 28 home runs. Myles Straw wasn’t promoted to Triple-A until mid-season but still managed to finish second with 35 stolen bases. Garrett Stubbs slashed an impressive .310/.382/.455 and displayed excellent defense and pitch framing.
Yordan Alvarez continued his rise up prospect rankings and earned a promotion to Fresno after demolishing Double-A pitching. Alvarez finished the season with a .293 average, 20 home runs, and 74 RBI in just 88 games across two levels.

Pitchers:
Josh James split the season between Fresno and Corpus Christi and perhaps raised his profile more than any prospect in recent memory. James finished the season with a 3.23 ERA and a ridiculous 171 strikeouts in just 113 innings.

Cy Sneed finished with ten wins and a very respectable 3.83 ERA with 114 strikeouts in 127 innings pitched.

Dean Deetz returned from suspension and injury and absolutely destroyed hitters, finishing with a 0.79 ERA and 50 strikeouts in just 34 innings pitched. Rogelio Armenteros battled some command issues this season but still managed an 8-1 record with a 3.74 ERA and 134 K in 118 innings of work.

MVP:

Kyle Tucker, and it isn’t even close. Tucker started the season as the second youngest everyday player in the league and struggled a bit out of the gate. On June 1, nearly two months into the season, Tucker was hitting a respectable but pedestrian .273 with an OPS barely over .800.

Tucker finished the season with these gaudy numbers: .332 AVG / .400 OBP / .590 SLG / .990 OPS / 86 R / 93 RBI / 27 DBL / 3 TRP / 24 HR / 20 SB. At 21 years old, Tucker still has some physical development to do, but the kid is a star in the making.

Corpus Christi Hooks (AA)

Record: 82-56

Hitters:

Randy Cesar had a Texas League record 42-Game hitting streak and finished the season with a slash line of .296/.348/.428/.776. Josh Rojas played most of his season with the Hooks and finished with an excellent 53:76/BB:K and stole 38 bases across two levels.

Ronnie Dawson played the final month with the Hooks and showed off his power-speed combo, slashing .289/.341/.518/.859 and combined to steal 35 bases and hit 16 home runs across two levels.

Pitchers:

Brandon Bielak made 11 appearances with the Hooks and posted a 2.35 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP, and struck out 57 in 61.1 innings. Across two levels, Bielak posted a 2.23 ERA. Corbin Martin gave up six earned runs while recording just one out in his first start with the Hooks. After that, Martin was brilliant, finishing with an ERA of 2.97 and a WHIP of 1.09 in 103 innings.

MVP:

Ryan Hartman became just the fourth pitcher in Texas League history to accomplish the pitching “Triple Crown,” finishing tied for first with wins (11), first in ERA (2.69), and first in strikeouts (143).

Buies Creek Astros (Advanced-A)

Record: 80-57 (League Champions)

Hitters:

Corey Julks, a University of Houston product, put together an outstanding all-around season. Julks played his last 61 games with the Astros and hit .282, with 26 extra-base hits, 16 stolen bases, and scored 39 runs. Osvaldo Duarte played 132 games with the Astros and put together his best professional season, hitting .276 with 68 runs scored 52 RBI, and 21 stolen bases.

Pitchers:

Brandon Bailey pitched 20 of his 25 games in 2018 with the Astros and posted 2.49 ERA and struck out 113 in 97.2 innings pitched. Bailey ended his season with the Hooks, where he continued his success. Tyler Ivey had a 2.69 ERA in 70.1 innings while striking out 82.

MVP:

J.J. Matijevic doesn’t leap out at you with gaudy numbers but the second-year pro produces at an elite level, especially for the Carolina League. Matijevic hit only .266 but had an OPS of .849 and homered 19 times. His season totals across two levels: .277 AVG / .350 OBP / .538 SLG / .887 OPS / 66 R / 62 RBI / 26 DBL / 4 TRP / 22 HR / 13 SB.

Quad Cities River Bandits (A)

Record: 81-59

Hitters:

Jacob Meyers led the team in doubles and slashed an impressive .302/.383/.476/.859 in 61 games. Bryan De La Cruz hit .283 with a .728 OPS. 2018 first round pick, Seth Beer, torched the league for a .348 average and a .934 OPS. Colton Shaver led the team in home runs (15) and RBI (50).

Pitchers:

Chad Donato went 6-0 with a 2.04 ERA, a 0.92 WHIP, and 77 strikeouts in 61.2 innings. Cristian Javier struck out 80 in just 49.1 innings and had a 1.82 ERA before being promoted. Before they were traded, Peter Solomon and Pat Sandoval combined to go 15-2 with 159 strikeouts in 142.2 innings. Bryan Abreu went 4-1 with a 1.64 ERA and struck out 68 in just 38.1 innings.

MVP:

The River Bandits pitching staff. In 1,226 innings, the staff had a MiLB season record 1,514 strikeouts, led the league in ERA (2.98), shutouts (17), saves (50), fewest hits allowed (976) and fewest home runs allowed (65). What’s perhaps even more amazing is that this staff wasn’t just 12-15 dominant pitchers overmatching the opposition. Instead, an incredible 32 different pitchers struck out batter for the River Bandits, 16 of which struck out at least 50. Still not impressed? Well, 19 different pitchers had at least one save and 18 had an ERA of 3.00 or less. A truly spectacular season by this staff and their coaches.

Tri-City ValleyCats (A-Short Season)

Record: 42-33 (League Champions)

Hitters:

Alex McKenna played in just 32 games but slashed .328/.423/.534 with five home runs and 21 RBI. Carlos Machado led the team in hits with 59 while batting .304 in 194 at-bats. Before being traded, Gilberto Celestino was slashing .323/.387/.480 in 34 games.

Pitchers:

Nivaldo Rodriguez led the team with 55.2 innings and struck out 50 while posting a 2.91 ERA. Mark Moclair worked through command and control issues but managed to strike out 48 batters in 27.1 innings. Austin Hansen posted a 1.76 ERA, a 0.88 WHIP, and struck out 45 in 30.2 innings of work.

MVP:

Enmanuel Valdez hit just .244 but led the team in doubles (16), runs (40), total bases (100), home runs (8), and extra-base hits (25). He was second in hits with 58 and stole 11 bases.

Statistics retrieved from:

MiLB.com

Baseball-reference.com

Thebaseballcube.com